Why Iron Man 2 is the Superior Iron Man

A lot of people jeered Iron Man 2 on its initial release. They claimed the movie focused too much on setting up the Avengers and offered little in terms of a sequel. Those people were right, but their analysis was incomplete. Current advancements in digital technology now make it possible to enjoy Iron Man 2 in a way that was heretofore impossible. What advancements are these? Well, they can best be summarized as “watching the movie” and “knowing what makes Iron Man great.”

If you watch the movie, knowing what makes Iron Man great, you’ll see how Iron Man 2 is the best of the trilogy.

Point #1: The Avengers Initiative

Does this film spend too much time setting up The Avengers movie? No. No, it does not. The Avengers Initiative takes up barely 10 minutes of screentime. True, this movie gives us our first look at Black Widow and features extended cameos by Samuel L. Jackson and Phil.

But is that really a problem? The teaser of Iron Man promised us we’d be getting an Avengers movie. Now you’re complaining that they’re following up on that promise? Huh? And we didn’t like having Black Widow in this movie, despite the fact that Fury assigning an undercover agent to monitor the volatile Mr. Stark is quite in keeping with his characterization and ends up contributing to the hero’s victory in the climax?

Wow, yeah. I guess the critics were right. What a waste of screentime.

For those who may not recall, at this point in the film, Ivan Vanko has unleashed his army of drones to terrorize the people of San Francisco. Black Widow infiltrates Hammer Industries to shut those metal mother-humpers down. But I guess Tony should’ve just let the drones level the city instead of having Natasha shut them down remotely. That would’ve made for a much better movie. In France, I guess.*

This brings us to points 2-4. These are the Reasons To Watch Iron Man. If you’re expecting anything different from an Iron Man movie, I don’t know how to help you. Maybe go talk to Shane Black, who thinks the ideal Iron Man movie is Lethal Weapon III.

Point #2: Iron Man movies need to have a badguy in a suit of power armor.

Most every superhero has somewhere among his/her rogue’s gallery a Shadow archetype as either a secondary or primary antagonist. What is a Shadow archetype? When Carl Jung came up with the archetype concept about 1000 years ago, he identified the Shadow as the first major obstacle to the patient’s wellness. Confronting one’s Shadow means a wrestling and eventual reconciliation and integration of the darkness within us all. In short, the Shadow is a person’s dark side. It’s what the hero would become if the hero gave in to those impulses society deems immoral or wicked.**

Venom is Spider-Man without Uncle Ben’s moral teachings. Zod is Superman without the humanity of Ma and Pa Kent. Reverse Flash is like the Flash but backwards. From Darth Vader to Raoul Silva, you see the Shadow archetype everywhere in fiction, and it’s little wonder. The Shadow archetype makes a great villain.

This point is so obvious, I probably don’t need to list it. Nowhere is the hero more challenged than when facing his/her shadow. Iron Man is at his most iron-y (ironny? ironical?) when he’s fighting another guy in a suit of powered armor. Whether that badguy is Obadiah Stane or Ivan Vanko, you need to have a Shadow for Iron Man to fight, otherwise why watch an Iron Man movie?

Point #3: An Iron Man sequel better have him team-up with War Machine

When I saw the second trailer for Iron Man 2, I nearly leapt for joy. All I wanted from an Iron Man sequel after leaving the first film was to watch Tony and Rhodey team up. Iron Man 2 delivered on that promise. We got an extended sequence (technically two) in which Rhodey suits up to confront evil alongside his battle-brother Tony Stark. Was it worth it? Yes it was. Don’t even.

Point #4: …to fight a bunch of badguys in power armor or an army of robots

In case you don’t remember the climax of Iron Man 2, it focuses on Iron Man and War Machine teaming up to fight Ivan Vanko’s drones. I don’t understand how or why I’m supposed to convince the critics this was the moment that should’ve made them wet themselves in delight, but here we are.

Ok. Let me break it down for you in terms even a self-absorbed, over-educated film critic can understand:

Fights between good guys and evil robots are awesome.

That’s it. That’s the tweet. All I expect from an Iron Man movie are three things: Iron Man, Iron Man and War Machine, and Iron Man and War Machine fighting robots and/or a guy in powered armor.

Iron Man 2 delivers on all fronts. This brings us to my final point.

Point #5: Iron Man 3 fails as an Iron Man movie.

Let’s go through the list. Does Iron Man 3 feature Iron Man? Not as much as the other two films, no. Does it feature War Machine? Only briefly, and Rhodey never suits up alongside Tony. Do they fight robots or a guy in powered armor? No. They fight fire-breathing super-soldiers, which somehow is nowhere near as awesome as that sounds. Plus it features Tony Stark shooting a guy with an Uzi.

Listen, Hollywood: When superheroes use guns — especially in their civilian personas — it gets really hard to pretend they’re not probably killing countless people during their swashbuckling adventures fighting crime and robots.****

Look, I’m a simple man. I don’t expect a lot from my superhero movies. A good villain. A simple objective for the hero to achieve or overcome. Maybe some lasers. In that sense, Iron Man is probably the easiest superhero NOT to mess up. You’d have to do something utterly ridiculous like keeping him out of costume for half of the movie or making the main villain also the comic relief or having Tony Stark shoot a guy.

Ugh. Iron Man 3 sucks.

*Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

**Some would argue that the Joker is Batman’s shadow. While it may be argued that the Joker is Batman’s opposite number, he is not Batman’s shadow. In truth, Batman is Bruce Wayne’s shadow. Dressing as Batman allows Bruce Wayne to reconcile his impulse to (physically) fight injustice with the social contract which calls for regular citizens to be submissive in the face of crime. How often are retail employees advised not to “be a hero” if the store gets robbed? Batman is Bruce Wayne’s act of rebellion against a society that enables crime, just as Joker is an act of rebellion against a society that tries to impose any kind of order on an uncaring, chaotic universe.

****And don’t you dare come at me with that ridiculous “Superheroes/Batman in particular should kill their villains” argument. It’s stupid, and you’re stupid for using it.

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